The film industry in the US has been left shellshocked following the massive decision by Warner Bros. to release their 2021 films – including major tentpoles such as Dune, Godzilla vs. Kong, Matrix 4 and The Suicide Squad – simultaneously in cinemas and on the WarnerMedia-owned streaming service HBO Max.
As you would expect, it’s been the cause of much debate between those that see it as an understandable move by the studio during the pandemic and those that see it as a major mistep that will hurt already struggling cinemas. There’s another angle for those not in favour: The potential bridge-burning that the studio is risking with all the talent attached to the films; filmmakers and actors expecting their projects would hit the big screen first in 2021.
Director Christopher Nolan, who has worked with Warner Bros. since his 2000 thriller Insomnia, hasn’t minced words, openly criticising the studio for making such a move without communicating the plan with talent.
“Some of our industry’s biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service,” Nolan said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter.
“Warner Bros. had an incredible machine for getting a filmmaker’s work out everywhere, both in theaters and in the home, and they are dismantling it as we speak. They don’t even understand what they’re losing. Their decision makes no economic sense, and even the most casual Wall Street investor can see the difference between disruption and dysfunction.”
Nolan had more to say to ET Online, calling WB’s sudden announcement “a real bait and switch.”
“[These 2021 movies are] meant to be out there for the widest possible audiences… And now they’re being used as a loss-leader for the streaming service — for the fledgling streaming service — without any consultation. So, there’s a lot of controversy. It’s very, very, very, very messy. A real bait and switch. Yeah, it’s sort of not how you treat filmmakers and stars and people who, these guys have given a lot for these projects. They deserved to be consulted and spoken to about what was going to happen to their work.”
As for what the future holds for the theatre experience, Nolan is confident, saying that chains “will bounce back and be a very important part of the ecosystem long-term.” Decisions like WB’s, Nolan said, are using the pandemic “as an excuse for sort of grappling for short-term advantage. And it’s really unfortunate. It’s not the way to do business and it’s not the best thing for the health of our industry.”
WB’s big decision is already causing large ripple effects – including potential court battles with other companies that will be affected by the planned two-way release. Legendary, for example, the studio that funded 75 per cent of Godzilla vs Kong, could be one eyeing a legal challenge. As THR reports, Legendary was looking at a potential $US225-plus deal from Netflix for Godzilla vs. Kong, only to have that scrapped when Warners enforced its power to block the sale. Furthermore, Legendary also inquired with the studio as to the possibility of getting a deal to stream on HBO Max – “and got no clear answer until its executives woke up one December morning to find that the movie was going day-and-date on the service without the benefit of a negotiation.”
Warners better have their legal team at the ready.
As of now, it appears that there are no release format changes in store for international markets, including Australia where Roadshow Films distributes WB projects.